Some notes on coping with grief

Several friends of mine have lost people close to them in the past few months. It occurred to me recently that one thing I found helpful in coping with my father's death was a photocopied handout that my counselor gave me, and that some of you might find it helpful too.

I can't find my paper copy, but it turns out the piece has been posted online in several places. The copy that I think is closest to the one I have is titled “Coping with Grief.”

The most useful part to me was the opening:

The death of someone close to us throws us into a sea of chaotic feelings. Sometimes the waves of emotions seem powerful enough to threaten our very survival; sometimes they feel relentless and never-ending; sometimes they quiet down only to arise months or even years later when we least expect them. Grief is not something we ever really “get over.” Our loss remains a fact for a lifetime. Nothing about grief's journey is simple; there is no tidy progression of stages and its course is long and circular.

Which implies, in particular, that the Kübler-Ross “five stages of grief” can happen in any order, or all at once, or none at all.

I recommend reading the rest of that page, even though there are some things it's not great about. For example, despite explicitly saying that there's no tidy progression of stages, the pamphlet does later kinda seem to imply that there is. And it has an odd gratuitous traditional-gender-roles bit, and a bunch of typos, and a bit of an emphasis on what's “normal.” It's certainly not perfect.

But for me, it helped me frame some of what was going on in my head (and my body), and it helped me understand that I didn't need to impose a Standardized Narrative on my grieving process; that it would play out in its own way and its own time; that things would, eventually, get somewhat better, but would never really go away.

I hope some of you find it useful too.

A note about origins/authorship: The pamphlet said that it was adapted from a book called Good Grief, by Granger E. Westberg, but as far as I can tell by looking at the book via Amazon's Look Inside feature, it's extremely loosely adapted—it took the outline of the book, the ten stages that Westberg proposed, and gave a brief summary of each, leaving out Westberg's religious emphasis. So I don't know who actually wrote the pamphlet, but it's not excerpted per se from the book, as far as I can tell.

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